Saturday, 30 June 2018

Catherine Wheel ‎Adam And Eve

Catherine WheelAdam And Eve

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Even by Catherine Wheel's lofty standards, Adam and Eve is boldly realized. It's infused with unusual moods, textures, and ambitious touches -- such as built-up volume shifts, or keyboards and acoustic guitars that suggest endless wide-open spaces. The album is also an impressive thematic whole formed by two untitled tracks that start and finish the LP, with gentle connectors between songs in which chords of one tune drift quietly into the start of the next. In markedly lowering the volume throughout large passages of the album, they shine the spotlight on singer/guitarist Rob Dickinson, who alternates his smooth, cool, meditative cooing with a more yearning, emotional, arresting wail. Other guitarist Brian Futter, bassist Dave Hawes, and drummer Neil Sims negotiate a maze of hues and tints, from peaceful, pretty solitude to the most desperate pathos. 1996's release of Like Cats and Dogs (a collection culled from the group's more ponderous, subdued, nearly ambient B-sides) precipitated the album's more restrained approach and more ambitious scope. More importantly, like much of Like Cats and Dogs, the LP is again greatly influenced by Talk Talk's Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock. So it's significant that Talk Talk's Tim Friese-Greene, who'd already produced Ferment and played on Happy Days, was called in again to play keyboards and ended up playing a major role in the album's sound, along with vaunted Pink Floyd producer Bob Ezrin and Garth Richardson. The more moody, reflective qualities that resulted are evident throughout, in the low-rumbling crash of "Broken Nose," the twinkling tones of "Ma Solituda," the near-Pink Floyd pastoral sweep of "Future Boy," the whimsical, throbbing ecstasy of "Delicious" and "Satellite," and the penultimate epic space-floaters, "Goodbye" and "For Dreaming." To put it bluntly, Adam and Eve is brilliant -- as playful as it is gripping, and as sweet as it is contentious.

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Dinosaur Jr Ear-Bleeding Country The Best Of

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The conventional wisdom on Dinosaur Jr. is focused almost entirely on their sonics, which admittedly were devastating and influential. Other bands had never relinquished the force of electric guitars -- Hüsker Dü were a galvanizing force, Sonic Youth reaffirmed that sheer noise had poetic power -- but Dinosaur, through their laconic frontman, J Mascis, restored not just the idea of a guitar hero, but showed that underground rock could soar with the eloquence of a guitar hero, reeling from lovely leads to sheets of noise to tranquil chords. In their early days, they relied more on sheer, overwhelming power, which tended to overshadow Mascis' subtle songwriting -- something that came to the forefront when the group, shed of Lou Barlow, shifted to Sire early in the '90s, because that also brought cleaner, precise productions. Since Rhino's 2001 compilation Ear-Bleeding Country: The Best of Dinosaur Jr. concentrates the Sire recordings, it does wind up emphasizing his songwriting, yet since those songs were always graced with Dinosaur's sonic power and grace, it does provide an accurate summary of their career. And it provides a pretty tremendous listen in doing that. Some may argue that there's not enough Homestead or SST material here, and "Raisans" should have been here (along with Green Mind's "Puke + Cry," and possibly their cover of "Show Me the Way"), but this generous 19-track collection never sags in its momentum, never has a dull spot, and pulls off a tricky move -- it makes Mascis seem consistent, which latter-day Dinosaur Jr. were not necessarily. However, as this collection proves, Mascis never lost his touch and could still write terrific songs, even as late as the group's final album. But what really stands out here is the consistency of the work -- "Little Fury Things" and "Freak Scene" may be the benchmarks of underground '80s rock, but alt-rock standards like the straight cover of the Cure's "Just Like Heaven," "Whatever's Cool With Me," "Start Choppin," "Get Me," "Feel the Pain," and the astonishing "The Wagon" are their equal, as is nearly every other song on this collection. And while the inclusion of "Where'd You Go," a cut by Mascis and his post-Dinosaur outfit, the Fog, is puzzling, "Take a Run at the Sun," a Beach Boys homage from the Grace of My Heart soundtrack that puts the High Llamas and R.E.M.'s latter-day efforts to shame, certainly isn't, since it illustrates that Mascis' genius is conscious. So, while there may be a couple of songs that maybe should have made the cut, what is here cements that Dinosaur Jr. are one of the great bands of their era, and it's a terrific listen, one of the best records in their catalog.

Saturday, 23 June 2018

The Supernaturals ‎It Doesn't Matter Anymore

The SupernaturalsIt Doesn't Matter Anymore

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After a string of successful singles, the Supernaturals' debut, It Doesn't Matter Anymore appeared and proved to be one of the finest britpop records of 1997. Filled with beautiful pop melodies, the Supernaturals' music is pretension-free and uninhibited; they are strictly a pop band. It Doesn't Matter Anymore is a brilliant debut of upbeat, sparkling pop singles and precious ballads, including the five stellar singles, "Smile," "Lazy Lover," "The Day After Yesterday's Man," "Free to Land" and "Love Has Passed Away." The punkish shuffle of "Stammer," and the expository drumming of the infectious opener, "Please Be Gentle with Me," are amongst the highlights of this album where dips in quality are few. Each track on the disc feels like a classic summertime anthem made for backyard barbecues and trips to the beach. It Doesn't Matter Anymore contains only a few slow spots -- most notably on the ballads, which are (for the most part) less inspired than the more uptempo tracks. While some of the lyrics and songs also have a tendency to become silly at times, It Doesn't Matter Anymore is an incredibly accomplished and compelling debut

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Belle & Sebastian If You're Feeling Sinister

Belle & Sebastian If You're Feeling Sinister

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Belle & Sebastian's second record, If You're Feeling Sinister, is, for all intents and purposes, really their first, since their debut in 1996 was not heard outside of privileged inner circles. And If You're Feeling Sinister really did have quite a bit of an impact upon its release in 1996, largely because during the first half of the '90s the whimsy and preciousness that had been an integral part of alternative music was suppressed by grunge. Whimsy and preciousness are an integral part of If You're Feeling Sinister, along with clever wit and gentle, intricate arrangements -- a wonderful blend of the Smiths and Simon & Garfunkel, to be reductive. Even if it's firmly within the college, bed-sit tradition, and is unabashedly retrogressive, that gives Sinister a special, timeless character that's enhanced by Stuart Murdoch's wonderful, lively songwriting. Blessed with an impish sense of humor, a sly turn of phrase, and an alluringly fey voice, he gives this record a real sense of backbone, in that its humor is far more biting than the music appears and the music is far more substantial that it initially seems. Sinister plays like a great forgotten album, couched in '80s indie, '90s attitude, and '60s folk-pop. It's beautifully out of time, and even if other Belle & Sebastian albums sound like it, this is where they achieved a sense of grace.

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Beth Orton ‎Central Reservation

Beth OrtonCentral Reservation

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On her stunning sophomore album, Central Reservation, Beth Orton slips free of the electronic textures that colored her acclaimed 1996 debut, Trailer Park, stripping her music down to its raw essentials to produce a work of stark simplicity and rare poignancy. With the exception of a pair of Ben Watt-produced tracks ("Stars All Seem to Weep" and a remix of the title cut), Central Reservation rejects synthetic sounds and beats altogether in favor of an organic atmosphere somewhere between folk, jazz, and the blues; the focal point is instead Orton's evocatively soulful voice, which invests songs like "Sweetest Decline" and "Feel to Believe" with remarkable warmth and honesty. It's a risky move creatively as well as commercially -- after all, the club culture was the first to champion Orton's talents -- but it pays off handsomely; for all its brilliance, elements of Trailer Park already feel dated, but the new material possesses a timelessness that recalls the best of Nick Drake or Sandy Denny, with a haunting beauty to match. And while much has been made of the melancholy that pervades her music, ultimately Central Reservation is first and foremost a record about hope and survival; its emotional centerpiece, the seven-minute "Pass in Time" (a spine-tingling duet with legendary folk-jazz mystic Terry Callier), grapples with the death of Orton's mother, but its underlying message of healing and perseverance is powerfully life-affirming -- her music hasn't merely discovered the light at the end of the tunnel, it's now bathing in it.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Enigma ‎MCMXC a.D. "The Limited Edition"

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Michael Crétu's attempt at fusing everything from easy listening sex music and hip-hop rhythms to centuries-old Gregorian chants couldn't have been more designed to tweak the nose of high art, a joyously crass stab straight at a mainstream, do not pass go, do not collect 200 dollars. The result is something that shouldn't exist, but in its own way results in as much of a cultural scramble and explosion as anything Public Enemy were doing around the same time, crossing over the Euro-disco and new age spheres with style. Credit Crétu for an open ear for whatever works, which is precisely why "Sadeness," the first part of a longer track called "Principles of Lust," turned into a fluke worldwide hit. Snippets of monks invoking the Almighty effortlessly glide in and out of a polite but still strong breakbeat, shimmering, atmospheric synth and flute lines and a Frenchwoman whispering in a way that sounds distinctly more carnal than spiritual (as her gasps for breath elsewhere make clear). Guitar and male vocals add to the album version's try-anything-that-works approach, as do attempts at shuffling jazz beats and horns. If nothing quite equals that prime moment elsewhere on the album, MCMXC A.D. still trips out on the possibilities as it can, right from the opening "Voice of Enigma," inviting all listeners to sit back, relax, and take a gentle trip. Crétu certainly isn't trying to hide anything -- "Callas Went Away" goes right ahead and adds a sample of Maria Callas herself to the chirping birds and soft beats, while elsewhere the flutes, beats, monks, and French voices merrily go about their glossy business. About the only thing missing is the kitchen sink, making the entire album the "MacArthur Park" of its day.

Saturday, 9 June 2018

Frank Black ‎Teenager Of The Year

Frank BlackTeenager Of The Year

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A sprawling double album, Frank Black's Teenager of the Year builds on the clever, carefully crafted pop he forged on his solo debut and moves even farther away from the Pixies' sound. It feels like the album Black wanted to make since Bossanova: "Whatever Happened to Pong?" and "Thalassocracy" are a one-two blast of energetic fun, but the tight songwriting and detailed arrangements on the strummy "Headache" and gentle, piano-driven "Sir Rockaby" are more interesting. Despite its 22-song length, most of Teenager of the Year's tracks are keepers; the first nine rank among Black's catchiest songs with or without the Pixies. "I Want to Live on an Abstract Plain" and "The Vanishing Spies" mix sweet straightforward melodies with spacy keyboards, and Black delivers a creative love song in "Speedy Marie"; the first letter of each line in the song's second half spells out his girlfriend's name. The driving, anthemic "Freedom Rock" is one of the album's more ambitious tracks, along with the catchy, educational "Ole Mulholland," a musical history lesson about William Mulholland, the developer and planner of Los Angeles' municipal water system. Teenager's beginning is so consistent, it's not surprising that its second half isn't quite as essential, but it's still interesting. The spacy, ska-tinged "Fiddle Riddle," the cryptic "Superabound," and the sprightly final track "Pie in the Sky" -- which sounds strangely like a punk version of Gary U.S. Bonds' hit "A Quarter to Three" -- all add to the album's individuality. Even less-developed songs like "Fazer Eyes" and "The Hostest with the Mostest" are still worthwhile. Though his later albums took a sparer, simpler approach, Teenager of the Year's ambition and quirkiness begin Black's evolution into a cult artist who makes the music he wants to, regardless of whether or not it's fashionable.

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Lloyd Cole Don't Get Weird On Me Babe

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Lloyd Cole's second solo album, 1991's Don't Get Weird on Me, Babe, was about a half-decade ahead of its time. If it had come out in 1996, after Richard Davies' Cardinal project, the High Llamas' Gideon Gaye, and the new belief in indie circles that Pet Sounds and Burt Bacharach were musical icons worthy of veneration, this would have slotted right in. In the year bracketed by My Bloody Valentine's Loveless and Nirvana's Nevermind, Don't Get Weird on Me, Babe (title courtesy of Raymond Carver) was considered a self-indulgent oddity. In retrospect, however, it's clearly one of Lloyd Cole's finest works. The album is divided into two distinct parts. One (the first half in the U.S., the second half everywhere else) is more of Cole's trademark literate, jangly guitar pop, featuring the sterling "Tell Your Sister" and the uncharacteristically rocking "She's a Girl and I'm a Man," the closest Cole ever came to an American hit single. This side features a core band of Fred Maher (who co-produced) on drums, Matthew Sweet on bass, and Robert Quine on guitar. That trio also appears on the other half of the album, but that set of six songs is dominated by a full orchestra arranged and conducted by Paul Buckmaster. Buckmaster's dramatic orchestrations add an entirely new dimension to the darker-edged songs without drowning them in Mantovani-style glop. In fact, the arrangements are rather low-key, especially on the haunting, hushed "Margo's Waltz," a gorgeous song with a jazzy bass part by Leland Sklar, subtle vibes, breathy female backing vocals, and almost subliminal brushed drums. Strongly reminiscent of Bacharach's most restrained '60s work -- especially during ex-Commotion Blair Cowan's lovely Hammond B3 solos -- "Margo's Waltz" is among the three or four best songs Cole has ever written. However, it's only one of many highlights on this exceptional, underrated album

Saturday, 2 June 2018

Ride Nowhere (20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition)

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Nowhere seems to hold consensus as the second-best record of the shoegaze era, and with very good reason. All of the common words, phrases, and adjectives commonly used with the short-lived subgenre fit properly here, and they're all positive, every one of them. Whir, whoosh, haze, swirl, ad nauseum -- this record holds all of these elements at their most exciting and mastered. But in the end, great pop records necessitate quality songs, which Nowhere delivers throughout. Undeniably, it's Ride's zenith -- dense, tight, hypnotic. "Seagull" serves as a dynamic opener; after a couple seconds of light feedback, bassist Steve Queralt kicks in with a rubbery, elliptical line (reminiscent of a certain Beatles song), which is soon followed by Andy Bell and Mark Gardener's guitar twists and Loz Colbert's alternately gentle and punishing drumming. After the upbeat "Kaleidoscope," the record falls into a tempo lull that initially seems impenetrable and meandering. However, patience reveals a five-song suite of sorts, full of lovely instrumental passages that are punctuated with violent jabs of manic guitars. The endlessly escalating "Polar Bear" is a high point, featuring expertly placed tom rolls from Colbert. The tempo picks up for the closing "Vapour Trail," a wistful pop song with chiming background guitars galore and mournful strings to close it out. The U.S. version was bolstered significantly with the remainder of the Fall EP ("Dreams Burn Down" having reappeared earlier in the record). "Taste" is one of their finest pure pop numbers; the moody/driving "Here and Now" rates well, and the five-minute "Nowhere" is a nasty distorto-freakout. [Nowhere was remastered and reissued by Ignition U.K. in 2001. Added to the 11 tracks featured on Sire's U.S. edition are the four selections from the equally wondrous Today Forever.]
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